Oral Histories, “Lost Treasures” of Beloved Fountain Green Theater Being Preserved, Restored – Press Release 9/26/2003

DATE 9/26/2003 5:55 PM

This is part of an occasional series by the Sanpete Country Travel and Utah Heritage Highway 89 Alliance on the people and places along U.S. Highway 89.

Oral Histories,
“Lost Treasures” of Beloved Fountain Green Theater Being Preserved, Restored

This is part of an occasional series by the Sanpete County Travel and Heritage Council about the people, places and preservation efforts along U.S. Highway 89, the Heritage Highway. When Rachel Syme and Devon Mikkelson were young, the theater and dance hall in downtown Fountain Green were the life of the town.Mikkelson, now in his 80’s, fondly recalls going to the theater to see his favorite actor, Hoot Gibson, on the big screen. Mikkelson went to the movies a lot because his mother was a widow and the LDS Church, which owned the theater back then, let the children of widows attend shows for free. The movies didn t have sound back then. The young Mikkelson often got a ride into town on a sled that was pulled by his dog, who would wait outside faithfully until his master s return.

Syme, also in her 80s, recalls working as an usherette in the movie theater to earn her ticket to the show. Tickets cost 10 cents for children back then and 15 cents for adults. It was her job to show people to their seats, or sell boxes of candy that sometimes contained prizes like a necklace or a watch. Syme even remembers the names of almost everyone she worked for and with at the theater, including the piano player who would sit below the stage near the screen and provide sound effects for the silent films. “It was so much fun, it was truly a social hall back then,” she says.

If Fred Burns has his way, when the children of Fountain Green are the same age Mikkelson and Syme are now, they too will have wonderful memories of the theater and social hall to share. Burns, along with a crew of dedicated volunteers, is working tirelessly to restore the 100-year-old theater and dance hall to its former glory. Along the way, he is preserving the memories of people like Syme and Mikkelson in an oral history book, as well as finding and restoring keepsakes from the original theatre and displaying them for the audiences of today to enjoy.

“A lot of people who grew up in this town and still live here remember going to the movies at the theater and what a special thing it was,” Burns said. “We want it to be that way again.” Burns is head of the Fountain Green chapter for the Mormon Pioneer Heritage Area, which is part of the Utah Heritage Highway Alliance’s preparation for obtaining national designation for U.S. Highway 89, the Heritage Highway. He and his team have raised more than $600,000 for the restoration project, including grants from the Eccles Foundation. Assistance has also been provided by volunteers, including former resident Russ Evans and Lewis and Lynn Rasmussen (who owned the dance hall and theater) and Dean and Gene Peckham, twins who own a Salt Lake City asphalt company and have donated countless hours and substantial amounts of money to the restoration.

The structure is really two buildings in one, Burns says. One side was used as a theater that showed movies and hosted plays and vaudeville acts, and the other side was a dance hall and later a cultural hall. Burns and the volunteers have restored many of the original elements of the theater, including the old ticket booth, woodwork and stencils. They’ve also found some of the theater’s original treasures, such as the roll-down screen that covered and protected the movie screen. The screen has a mural-type image that is surrounded by advertisements from local businesses at the time.

“We found in the basement during the renovation, just rolled up and sitting there. It’s in great shape,” Burns says. “The screen is signed on the back by actors who were in plays that were performed here.” The screen is being restored by Brigham Young University and will be on display at the theater. “We’re told that the screen alone is worth as much as the entire building. I’ve never seen anything like it in my entire life, it’s a great find,” he says.

When it comes to finding out information about the theater, Burns doesn’t have to look too hard or too far. “We have a complete history right here in town,” he says referring to people like Syme and Mikkelson. “I’m sitting these people down and talking to them about what they remember about the theater,” he says. The memories will be put into a booklet and many of them will be shared at the theater’s grand opening celebration early next year. There are also plans for a Mormon Heritage Film Festival next fall, as well as plays, musical performances and other activities once the theater is up and running. “We hope to show one to two shows a week.,” Burns says.

Burns was drawn to the theater restoration project out of his love and respect for old buildings. A former painter and business owner from West Jordan, he fell in love with Fountain Green more than three decades ago while working on painting the Manti Temple. He bought a home in the town some 36 years ago, using it in the summer and on weekends. He and his family permanently moved to Fountain Green year and a half ago after he retired.

For more information Contact:Monte Bona
Sanpete County Travel and Heritage Council
(435) 462-2502
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